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Open Government in Action

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Democracy and Governance | Anti-corruption | Civil Society, Civic Engagement, and Independent Media

How Local Actors in Peru are Shaping Global Transparency

This piece was originally published on OGP’s OpenStories.

Imagine a local community where public funds meant for critical infrastructure routinely disappear, leaving the local community in a continuous state of disappointment and poverty. This scenario, regrettably, is common in many parts of the world due to corruption. However, that is not entirely the case in Peru, where a transformation has unfolded in seven of the 25 regions of the country. The USAID-funded Transparent Public Investment Project (TPI) partnered with public and private sector partners to reduce systemic corruption and strengthen civil society’s oversight of public procurement processes.

Why Open Government Matters for Local Public Procurement

Rising authoritarianism and declining public trust in liberal democracies have fueled a concerning trend of democratic backsliding over the past 18 years. This disturbing development is intensified in low- and middle-income countries, where corruption is often a root cause of eroding democratic norms and institutions. In response, the U.S. Government has launched several initiatives and strategies designed to support democracies worldwide, including TPI, by centering open government principles. The principles of open government—transparency, public accountability, civic participation, and inclusion—stand as practical solutions that should not be overlooked.

TPI offers a real-world example of how to effectively implement those principles at the grassroots level to improve service delivery and tackle corruption in public procurement through multi-stakeholder cooperation. The success of TPI is not just in its implementation, but in its broader impact on open governance. By positioning local actors to direct the groundwork, TPI demonstrates a scalable and replicable model for combating corruption. By enhancing transparency and promoting collective action in public works, it provides a blueprint for development practitioners looking to tailor open government initiatives to their specific contexts or regions. The approach underscores the potential of locally led, technology-enabled solutions to drive significant change, even in environments where corruption is deeply entrenched.

From Theory to Practice: Making Open Government Work

The journey from embracing open government principles to achieving tangible outcomes in the fight against corruption involves navigating a complex landscape of both challenges and opportunities. Historically, the government and private sector in Peru have been reluctant to collaborate with one another. This historic lack of mutual trust was magnified when the Odebrecht scandal highlighted the magnitude of corruption in public investment programs. The lack of widespread collaboration hindered progress. For instance, as of 2023, 237 public works projects managed by the 25 regional governments in Peru were stalled. This is, in part, attributed to deficiencies in the quality of technical files during the pre-tender phase, which led to a lack of clarity in the specifications, heightened risks, and delayed bidding processes.

TPI recognized that key to the success of open government, however, is ensuring collaboration between government and civil society. The project applied the integrity network model to bring together local governments, civil society, and the private sector. Through these multi-stakeholder networks, actors collaboratively monitor public investments to ensure that funds are used as intended, paving the way for more transparent, accountable governance. The integrity network participants help oversee public works projects from the pre-tender stage, including participating in the design of the technical specifications to the selection of proposals and implementation. The participants also verify local governments’ compliance with public procurement integrity standards. Together, these groups have begun to turn the tide in the fight against corruption and opaque decision-making.

In the center is Pina Mundaca, a member of the Integrity Network, with two students from the school.
Lambayeque Integrity Network members conduct citizen oversight of a school in the José Leandro Ortiz district. This work guarantees access to quality education for more than 2,000 students. In the center is Pina Mundaca, a member of the Integrity Network, with two students from the school.
Credits: Aldo Vera and Enrique Castro, USAID/Peru TPI

Across seven regions of Peru, the integrity networks oversee 54 public work projects, including the recent improvement of the Mollepata-Río Blanco road, which is designed to boost tourism in the Anta province and allow for smoother transport of avocados, oranges, wheat, and other agricultural products. The networks include a broad representation of stakeholders, including 95 local government representatives, local chambers of commerce, engineering and architectural associations, and civil society organizations focused on women, indigenous people, and youth. This inclusive approach not only promotes transparency, but also fosters a sense of ownership and trust among all involved.

In particular, the progress in the Lambayeque region offers a strong example of the path forward. In 2023, TPI identified the new governor, whose campaign emphasized the fight against corruption, as an ideal partner for promoting a public-private roundtable to improve investments. Partnering with seven organizations, including the Association of Engineers, Chamber of Commerce, Peruvian Chamber of Construction, and the Roundtable for the Fight Against Poverty, TPI launched a collaborative process to assess the region’s portfolio of infrastructure projects. Initially, the public and private sector representatives were reluctant to collaborate. This hesitancy was overcome by identifying and engaging in active dialogue with public and private sector champions, with a focus on tailored messaging emphasizing cooperation and knowledge sharing. There is now a strong partnership—in fact, civil society members reported that through these proposal roundtables, they have recovered their trust in the regional government.

Digital platforms, which enhance access to information and increase transparency, also play a crucial role in TPI’s success. By developing user-centered digital tools, TPI has made it easier for citizens to track public investments and contracts, document compliance with integrity-related aspects of public procurement, and engage with government officials. For example, the Lambayeque regional government uses “Aplicativo de Comunicación Digital,” an app embedded in their information systems. This presents a streamlined method to offer inputs on the design of technical files for high-priority public works. By building upon participatory mechanisms for monitoring public contracts, these tools have the power to democratize the flow of information, making it accessible for a wider segment of the population.

Progress Beyond Programs

Diversity promotes trust. The progress made by TPI underlines the importance of building networks that reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. By equipping local actors with the tools and support to drive change from within, these networks facilitate dialogue and collaboration by breaking down barriers of distrust and creating a shared vision for transparent procurement. For development practitioners, policy makers, and citizens committed to fighting corruption and enhancing transparency, this case study can serve as both an inspiration and a call to action to collectively contribute to a more open, accountable, and inclusive governance across the globe. In this journey towards open governance, every step towards transparency not only combats corruption, but also rebuilds public trust and establishes a stronger foundation for democratic governance. The time to act is now, leveraging the principles of open government to create a more just, equitable world for all.

Banner image caption: Members of the Cusco Integrity Network provide collaborative oversight on the Mollepata-Río Blanco road project in the province of Anta, Cusco.

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About Paola Barragan

Paola Barragan is a governance, transparency, and rule of law expert with 26 years of experience. She has experience leading complex international donor-funded transparency, justice, anticorruption, and institutional-strengthening projects in Latin America and Africa. As a four-time USAID chief of party (DRC, Colombia, El Salvador, and now Peru), Barragan has led, implemented, and delivered democracy…

About Dirseo Pasha

Dirseo Pasha is a professional fellow who supported Chemonics’ democracy and governance team. He has an academic background in European studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science.